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Match-Fixing and Corruption in Professional Tennis

By Cecilia Ehresman

The Tennis Integrity Unit (the "TIU") was established in 2008 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, the Women's Tennis Association, the International Tennis Federation, and the Grand Slam Committee. (Richard H. McLaren. Symposium: Doping in Sports: Legal and Ethical Issues: Corruption: Its Impact on Fair Play. 19 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 15, (2008)). It was created in response to the highly and negatively publicized investigation of Nikolay Davydenko, ranked fourth in the world, for allegedly fixing his August 2, 2007 match at the Prokom Open against Martin Arguello, ranked 87th. Id. Since its creation, the TIU has established and enforced a uniform regulatory structure for anti-corruption, the Tennis Anti-Corruption Code (the "Code"). This Code is used to handle match-fixing allegations across the sport. However, in the past three years, only nine players have been found guilty of match-fixing across the sport. (tennisintegrityunit.com). All of those players were low-ranking, with the only prominent player ever to be linked to match-fixing being Davydenko. Id.

Many argue that the TIU has solely sanctioned low-ranking players because it is only they who participate in match-fixing. This assertion is supported by the financial situation of such players (low-ranking players' tournament checks often do not cover the costs of their participation, causing them to have thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs per tournament), which explains why match-fixing is appealing to them. However, recent findings and events suggest that this might be a false assertion. A 2014 study, written by Ryan Rodenberg, an assistant professor of Sports Law at Florida State University, and Elihu Geustel, an Indiana-based professional tennis gambler, utilized two predictive models to track the betting market price against the "correct" price. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-01/tennis-betting-study-finds-unusual-patterns-in-23-matches.html). The 'correct' price was measured using data from previous matches in order to analyze each players' odds of winning the present match. Id. Under this model, betting patterns for a match were labeled suspect if there was a 16% to 29% difference between the market's and the model's price, since such a deviation could only be the result of an approximate $100,000 swing in wagering before the match even started. Id. Based on these measures, the study found that at least three matches at Wimbledon, this year alone, illustrated suspicious betting patterns which warranted an investigation. Id. This was also true of at least one match at the 2012 London Olympics and several opening-round matches at the 2011 French Open and 2012 Australian Open. Id. Yet none of these matches were ever investigated by the TIU.

Furthermore, in 2013 and 2010 respectively, a veteran sports corruption investigator (the "Investigator") and a Florida-based lawyer who represented the banned Italian players in 2000 (the "Lawyer") came forward to assert that the TIU continually targets low-ranking players for match-fixing, while purposefully allowing big-name players to slide under the radar. (http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/51670382/as-wimbledon-begins-does-tennis-have-a-gambling-problem). The Investigator was further quoted stating that as many as a dozen top-50 tennis players, including several who are included in the top 10, have been privately warned about their involvement in suspicious matches rather than being formally investigated. Id. Some of these suspicious matches included matches played at Wimbledon in 2013. Id.

These recent allegations should raise suspicion concerning the recent April 14, 2014 arrest of six men, four of whom were Southern Star players, and none of whom ranked above the top 200, for allegedly conspiring to fix several national and international matches. (http://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/11230234/australia-police-arrest-6-tennis-match-fixing-ring). The information which led the TIU to investigate these men was never released, but Australian police did come forward to state that a number of bets were placed on tennis matches where the outcome seemed to be predetermined by at least one of the players. Id. The Australian police then reassured the public that none of these fixings related to the big-matches on the ATP World Tour at the Australian Open. Id.

In light of the recent allegations directed at the TIU and the way in which this most recent arrest was handled, one should ask why the TIU would refrain from going after big-name players. Would it be to ensure the integrity of the "big money" matches? According to the Lawyer, it is because going after "low-hanging fruit" does not jeopardize the TIU's "bottom line." (http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/51670382/as-wimbledon-begins-does-tennis-have-a-gambling-problem). In other words, by covering up the names of the top players who partake in gambling and match-fixing, the TIU insures income for the sport as a whole. Id. Tennis, like most professional sports, generates much of its income from fans and sponsors. Id. For this reason, it is in the sport's best interest to sanction lower ranking players to show that its anti-corruption system is working, as opposed to sanctioning big-named players, which would result in negative media attention and the loss of fans and sponsorships (as it did when Davydenko was accused of match-fixing in 2008). Id. Moreover, such negative attention would likely injure sports gambling companies who, for tennis alone, generated a total of $58 billion in gross profit in 2012. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2014-09-01/tennis-betting-study-finds-unusual-patterns-in-23-matches.html).

If the TIU is in fact only targeting low-ranking players while allowing higher-ranking players to slide under the radar, one must question if the TIU is "smart" for doing so. In other words, does this method best balance the integrity of the sport with fan happiness? Similar to what occurs in Major League Baseball (MLB), Article V of the Code ensures player confidentiality throughout an investigation. (http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf; http://www.itftennis.com/media/161972/161972.pdf). However, MLB superstars have been convicted of crimes. For example, Alex Rodriguez was convicted in 2014 of using steroids, and the Chicago White Sox were even convicted of fixing the World Series in 1919. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/11/us/alex-rodriguez-suspended/index.html; http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/postseason/mlb_ws_recaps.jsp?feature=1919). So why would the TIU be afraid of going after big-named players when the MLB does it quite frequently regarding equally serious allegations? Again, perhaps it is to protect the sport as a whole from scandal in order to ensure tennis' financial stability. However, the TIU must recognize that such a method can only be a short-term fix. Allegations of corruption within the TIU itself are already becoming more frequent. Thus, if these allegations are true, it is only a matter of time before the truth is exposed. For this reason, if it is not doing so already, it is best for the TIU to equally target all players. While this may hurt sponsorship in the short-term, it will ensure that the public does not lose faith in the sport. As Warwich Barlett, chief executive officer of Isle of Man, a U.K. based Global Betting and Gambling Consultants firm, stated: "credibility is everything in sports...[and] people don't want to be on roulette if the wheel is rigged."

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 26, 2014 8:40 AM.

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